Following the successful European Level Crossing Awareness day (ELCAD) a year ago, a great number of countries joined this awareness campaign focusing on educational measures and the promotion of safe behaviour at and around level crossings, and it became the International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD), last held on 22 June this year.
In more than 40 countries across five continents a series of coordinated communications actions were structured around the joint message “Act safely at level crossings!”: flyers were handed out at level crossings, in schools, driving schools, scout and guide clubs etc., posters were displayed in railway stations and near level crossings, special messages were broadcast on radio, television and on LED screen in stations, and press conferences were held with the national and local press.
The European Commission actively participated in the ILCAD campaign with its firm commitment to improve road safety. The Commission produced a special video clip dubbed “Just it time” designed to complement the national activities in the participating countries. It has been uploaded by partners worldwide on their websites, and also shown during press conferences, in train stations and other public areas.
As was the case last year, the European Commission organised in partnership with UIC, the coordinator of the International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD) campaign, an international press conference at the Berlaymont’s EC Press Room in Brussels that was broadcast live across Europe on Satellite.
Mr. Enrico Grillo Pasquarelli, Director of Inland Transport at DG MOVE, chaired and opened the conference underlining that beyond the human and social costs of each and every road accident, accidents at level crossings represent a large cost in economic terms: train traffic is interrupted for long periods, damages to the rail network can be significant and the environmental consequences can be devastating. Calculations suggest that the overall cost of these accidents at EU level comes to about one billion euros a year. Level crossing accidents are specific in nature; they cannot be compared to any other category of road accident and therefore deserve a specific and targeted action.
Inés AYALA SENDER, MEP and member of the transport and tourism committee of the European Parliament, said that she was very happy that the scope of the campaign in favour of safety at level crossings has widened and that its extension to the Latin American Railway Association among others is very good news, in line with the Spanish Presidency’s efforts of tackling the issue from both sides of the Atlantic.
She also stressed importance of the urban issue in road safety that mostly focuses on highways and speedways. The Commission is making efforts to include the issue of urban road safety, also supported by the European Parliament, as most of the accidents occur in urban areas where level crossings still exist. She suggested that safety at level crossings is an issue that could be included in the European Commission’s future road safety action plan.
Herman de Croo, Chair of ETSC (European Transport Safety Council and former Belgian Transport Minister), stated that the international level crossing awareness day is a good day as the awareness is meant to concentrate views on a given problem. Even if statistics demonstrate that level crossing accidents account for 2% of road accidents in Europe, they represent 30% of all rail accidents throughout Europe, so it is good to draw the attention of so many stakeholders on one day and ETSC is glad to collaborate as they did a year ago with ILCAD on this international awareness day.
Mr De Croo said that a great number of these accidents are caused by people who live near level crossings and in many cases use them several times a day. As they are familiar with the train schedules they pay less attention when crossing, but in doing so are putting their life at risk. He said ETSC was very happy to contribute every effort to this special day to try and change this behaviour.
Next to speak was Eva Molnar, Director at UN-ECE Transport Division that covers 56 member states with more than 300 000 level crossings, thus presenting a high risk for level crossing accidents.
She focused on the overall economic and societal impact of accidents at level crossings, which can be far more devastating than statistics suggest. They have a large impact because they do not only result in individual tragedies. Each person lost can amount to a tragedy for a community. She illustrated this with the example of a train that collides with a school bus near the school’s village – as this unfortunately has happened several times.
Eva Molnar stressed that the impact of road rail crashes is often tragically overlooked and deprived the attention it deserves to have. When a person dies it is a tragic loss to the family and to society, but if is a person is killed in level crossing accident the tragedy is even more difficult to deal with as it is felt that the accident could have been avoided.
She announced that UNECE is ready to host a multi-disciplinary group of experts including experts from road traffic safety, railway transport, road and railway infrastructure, where UNECE governments, international organisations (UIC), the European Commission and the stakeholders at large would be represented.
Anders Lundström, Head of the Safety Unit at ERA (European Railway Agency) said that level crossing accidents are most definitely one of ERA’s concerns. Actions to improve safety at level crossings must be taken at Member State level by joint measures from the railway and road authorities, and other players such as infrastructure providers and the police. The agency is contributing to the improvement of level crossing safety by providing factual information, monitoring the development and proposing possible new legislation to the Commission.
Alan Davies, Chairman of ELCF (European Level Crossing Forum) underlined that there is no doubt that rail travel is a safe way of travelling and that its risk has decreased in various areas in recent years, but unfortunately this can not be said for the risk at level crossings which has remained the same for the past several years. Level crossings now cause the most number of train accidents. Most of the risk arises from outside the industry by users exposing themselves to levels of risk away from safe environments such as stations. Level crossings are inherently an easy way for people to cross a railway track, which makes the risk much harder for the railway industry to control. People neglecting traffic rules on level crossings not only put themselves at risk but also people travelling or working on trains. That is why it is so important to make them aware that level crossings must be used with care.
He also stressed that level crossing accidents must be considered a shared responsibility between several players; not only highway authorities and railway authorities but also land-use planners and land owners, whose land is next to the railway and is accessed over a level crossing, and of course the users.
Luc Vansteenkiste, Director General at INFRABEL, representing Mr. Luc Lallemand, CEO of INFRABEL, gave an overview of the level crossing issue in Belgium.
47 accidents with 12 fatalities occurred at level crossings in 2009. The figures tend to vary from year to year. 2009 is considered as a good year compared to the peak year of 2007 with 76 accidents and 19 fatalities, but of course the ideal figure should be 0 accidents and 0 fatalities.
Infrabel has removed 159 level crossings over the last five years. 12m euros/year is spent on these infrastructure works. 20m euros has been spent in the last 2 years to improve signalling at level crossings.
One of Infrabel’s basic targets is to raise awareness among road users of the dangers of level crossings by distributing flyers at specific level crossings. Everybody should know that three seconds pass between hearing the train and the train hitting you. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists think that they have more time than cars to escape when crossing the barriers. This is wrong! Crossing a level crossing that is closed is putting your life at risk.
In Belgium 200 cameras have been installed at level crossings to watch users and with the objective to sanction car users, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians that do not respect the traffic rules. The sanctions can range from 220 euros to 2750 euros and/or the withdrawal of a driving licence for up to 5 years, even if the road user trespasses on a bicycle.
Simon Fletcher, representing Mr. Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, UIC Director General, said that from UIC’s worldwide perspective it is immensely proud of the step that has been taken getting from ELCAD in 2009 to ILCAD this year and of the role UIC has been able to play in that very significant step through its worldwide commitment and network.
The International Awareness Day has been celebrated in other parts of the world – not only in North America but almost all of South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and all of the subcontinent of India have been involved in the campaign. He added that UIC is very happy with the previous announcement of Eva Molnar about the UN-ECE proposal for the future. UIC is ready to collaborate with UN-ECE on that matter.